It’ s back to the usual format for Game of Thrones, but with about five massively climactic moments I’m not sure where to start recapping — or finish. Also — IT’S THE END OF THE SERIES [“season” for our U.S. readers ~Ed.], HOLD ME.
After she banished Jorah for his treachery two episodes ago, Daenerys must’ve thought she was due a break. But the hits keep coming. The social fabric of Meereen, built on slavery for so long, can’t repair itself to fit Dany’s worldview this quickly, and former slaves are begging to return to their masters. Turns out being the Great White Saviour isn’t as simple as all that. WHO KNEW.
As if that wasn’t enough, her next supplicant tells her that Drogon’s tastes have moved from goats to toddlers — which leads Dany to chain his unfortunate siblings in the catacombs under Meereen. Dany’s a character with one of the strongest moral codes in the entire series: once she knew what Drogon had done, then she would never have allowed herself another option than to safeguard her people against her remaining dragons. But you can see what it costs her: she’s the Breaker of Chains, but it turns out that some people missed them; and some — her dragons, her children — need to be chained up to keep everyone else alive. And how can she reconquer Westeros with dragons she can’t control? Walls of her own making are closing in around our favourite exiled queen.
Drogon is still out there with not a care in the world. Favouritism.
Beyond the Wall
I do see the wisdom in Jon’s leaving Ghost behind now — despite my complaints in the last recap. Jon walks straight in to Mance’s camp, head high and hands up — anything that looked like a weapon would have gotten him shot/speared/stabbed on sight. Jon’s beaten down, but Mance’s insults don’t penetrate far: he’s always known what his motives were: to obey Qhorin’s orders (I was waiting for Jon to come back with Sam’s defense of sex in the Night’s Watch oath, too — alas). Mance is quick enough to catch on to Jon’s assassination plan, though: and here’s what must’ve felt like the biggest deus ex machina of the series for non-book readers: Stannis and Davos arrive at the head of a brand-spanking new army (made up solely of cavalry apparently) just in time to save Jon’s neck. Iron Bank money buys a lot of mercenaries, it seems.
Mance Rayder won’t kneel, but Jon brokers a very temporary peace. Ned Stark’s name carries weight with Stannis, because Ned’s honour is like his own: it was Ned who told him the truth about Cersei’s children, and so he takes Jon’s advice about what to do with the Wildlings now: take their king and burn their dead.
Mance is brought back to Castle Black to join Tormund as a captive; and Melisandre stares at Jon through the burning bodies of the fallen Night’s Watchmen. Jon takes Ygritte’s body — as advised by Tormund — to burn beyond the Wall.
Even Further Beyond the Wall
This whole segment was my least favourite of this episode. Jojen dying, eh, okay; Meera cutting his throat to speed his suffering, okay; but Pirates of the Caribbean-esque wights? And speaking of dei ex machina, the Children of the Forest can throw fireballs now? I bet GRRM was watching this with his hands over his eyes. What did you think, non-book readers — was the magic too much too soon?
Still, it was good to see Bran finally reach his destination, even if more questions arise straight: who is that guy in the tree-root chair? Why is Bran so important to him?
I have been watching you, with a thousand eyes and one…. You will never walk again. But you will fly.
And what are Hodor and Meera supposed to do now?
Finally, after three series being dragged all over central Westeros, Arya meets someone who recognises her, and it’s a woman after her own heart, Brienne. You can just tell Arya is dying for a suit of armour as awesome as Brienne’s. Their moment of bonding doesn’t last, though, as the Hound is the one who reminds them both of the practicalities: Brienne is sworn to uphold a Lannister oath, and even if she wasn’t — where could she take Arya?
Safety?! Where the fuck’s that? Her aunt in The Eyrie is dead. Her mother’s dead. Her father’s dead. Her brother’s dead. Winterfell is a pile of rubble. There’s no safety, you dumb bitch. If you don’t know that by now, you’re the wrong one to watch over her.
The Hound and Brienne fight — and though this is fourth (I think?) time we’ve seen Brienne fight, this is the first time I didn’t feel shortchanged. It’s expert, hard, brutal fighting, and Brienne gives as good as she gets — even better.
Brienne loses sight of Arya, but the Hound ends up at the bottom of the slope, begging Arya to kill him. He uses every trick he knows (Rory McCann was amazing here), but she’s impervious. He was one of the first on her list, after all — and he’s asked her to, so she doesn’t. There are no Hollywood endings here. She takes his purse and her horse, and heads for the coast. She does have one family member left alive that she knows of: Jon Snow. But the money she stole isn’t enough to persuade the Braavosi merchants to change their course and take her north. The coin Jaqen H’gar gave her is good for a one-way trip to Braavos, though. Arya’s going east.
In the last three episodes we’ve seen very clearly how the war has affected all the Stark children: Jon, Sansa, Arya and Bran have all become much more savvy, emotionally colder, and ruthless versions of themselves.
The Lannister children aren’t unchanged, either. Cersei finally plays her trump card with Tywin: all the rumours are true. His grandson, the king, is a bastard born of incest, and if he makes her marry Loras, she’ll tell everyone that his precious legacy is a lie. She then storms off to seduce Jaime: she’s surfing on a tide of grandiosity and triumph, and claims not to care about everyone else’s opinions of incest.
Having gotten back into his sister’s good books — which he’s a bit bemused by, to be honest — Jaime decides he can’t let his little brother die, and breaks him out of his cell into Varys’s waiting arms. Kinda. It clearly wasn’t part of the plan for Tyrion to detour via his father’s chambers and murder both Shae and Tywin. Sibel Kikelli and Peter Dinklage’s performances were both spot on, but I expected to feel more at Shae’s death, to be honest. It was really Tywin that held my attention. The man is just so in control the whole time that even though I knew exactly how he would die, I still half-expected Tyrion to drop the crossbow at the last minute. Also, did anyone believe that Tywin really approved of Varys and Jaime’s plan to break Tyrion out? Nice try, Tywin.
I loved the look on Varys’s face as he hears the bells and realises he can’t go back to the Red Keep. Something tells me Tyrion’s in trouble when that boat docks in Essos. And somehow I doubt that Cersei will want to reanimate Tywin the way she’s having Qyburn do to the Mountain: the North might not have the monopoly on animation after death. I also continue to direct applause to whoever cast Qyburn — he’s so perfectly creepy, yet with such a warm and trustworthy face.
This episode was a perfect illustration of the ambiguity of characters: just as nobody is safe from death, nobody is safe for us to like. Arya, already a killer, leaves her one protector to die in agony. Tyrion kills his father, sure, but his murder of Shae makes it difficult for us to see him as “the good guy” any more. This episode was also the longest of the season, and those extra few minutes really made a difference. There was just more time: time for the horror of Drogon’s action to sink in with Dany; time for Meera and Jojen to have some last words; for Jon to burn Ygritte’s body; for the Hound to beg for death. I’m with GRRM on this one: we need more of this next season. More episodes please!
Special bonus image and spoilery speculation below:
SPOILER WARNING: if you want to talk about the books from these events in A Storm of Swords on, please be nice and use rot13.com to encypher your comment (go to that site, write your comment, click, then copy and paste the new text back here). To read spoiler—y comments, just reverse the process: copy the text here, go to rot13.com, and click to read. Events from the books that have already been depicted in the show are not considered spoilers.
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